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May 14, 2007


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Benjes Parser


This notion of discipline strikes me as troubling in a couple of ways, not only because it seems hard to distinguish from a certain cult-of-death politics, or because of the problems with the Lacanian theory behind it, but because it seems the recipe for a troublingly vanguardist notion of "donation" or "sacrifice" on the part of the left, who, as you make pretty clear, really means petit-bourgeois or bourgeois proletarian sympathizers (like me). The worst victims of capitalism don't need discipline because they have fewer--or no-- "enjoyments" to wean themselves from. But doesn't this arrogate, from the start, a certain amount of power to those who discipline themselves, the intellectual leaders of a revolutionary party? I would think that, if broad organizing were occurring, if there were connections between the intellectual left and the worker left (and, obviously, these aren't exclusive), you wouldn't need to give anything up, you'd have it taken from you, and then you could make your choice to be a reactionary or not.

The ideas of discipline above (and the implicit notion of sacrifice) are, I think, liberal rather than anti-democratic in origin, and follow from social-democratic models of philanthropy, compassion and sacrifice on the part of the elites. For me, a revolutionary movement that I would want to be a part of would emphasize empowering disadvantaged people to seize the means of production that they need to live, flourish, and yes, enjoy, and not have to come begging to a "sympathetic" and disciplined privileged class.


Benjes--I don't know where you get begging or sympathy. Certainly not from anything I've written. The same applies to your gestures to philanthropy and compassion. My point is that a left party (or even a coherent movement) has to be willing and able not to promise everything to everybody, not to say things like we can have the current levels of upper middle class consumption, mass entertainment, a flourishing stock market, and a viable, sustainable economic way of life for everyone. How you get a cult of death politics from this is beyond me.


I don't have a whole lot to say here, especially when I'm told that I advocate a politics of the arch-conservative. Then again I guess I get this hurled at me honestly as I did suggest that this is the romanticization of the Gulag and the old days of party terror. The point that organization requires discipline is an obvious and a banal point. Similarly, it is clear and obvious that the transformation of the social will call for significant transformations in how we consume, what we consume, and the wealth we accumulate. What is so disturbing about this post is the question of why discipline and sacrifice are being valorized as ends in themselves or absolute values. I don't understand any political engagement that doesn't produce a better and more free life, and that seems to be what is being proposed here. We have the vast majority of the world's population living in terrible poverty. What exactly will they be sacrificing? And how does one immediately arrive at the conclusion that talk of to better work and living conditions, better, more equitable, more just, more satisfying, and more meaningful ways of relating to one another, more freedom to pursue our desires and cultivate ourselves, somehow entails that we consume exactly as we have before and where we "have it all"? This seems like a significant failure of imagination. At any rate, echoing Benjes' questions, who, exactly is the "we" you're referring to here when talking about discipline and sacrifice? It certainly does sound like the academic elite. Perhaps a page should be taken from the work of Badiou, and a little more respect should be extended to those collectives that form their own revolutionary movements.


Discipline as banal? Well, that's not what a whole bunch of bloggers have been saying lately--in fact, they've been asserting the opposite.

And where is respect not extended to 'those collectives that form their own revolutionary movements'? It would be presumptuous for me to speak for them. I don't know anyone in a revolutionary collective, but I try to do research on different movements so that I can learn more about it. More important is what I can here, in the US, UK, and Europe toward a politics that doesn't eat these people, that doesn't presume or ignore their exploitation and oppressions. After all, climate change hurts people in, say, Bangladesh much more than it does folks in the middle of the US.

As I've made clear numerous times, I'm speaking to what identifies at a left in the US, England, and Europe. If people want to turn up their noses and say that this bourgeois faux left, this academic elite, has nothing to do with them, fine. I would find this a bit surprising, given that many of the readers here have connections with some kind of academic work and a level of privilege far greater than your garden variety slum dwellers. And, I find it remarkable that rather than acknowledging the problematic and precarious conditions of left politics in the US, UK, and Europe, people would invoke the revolutionary masses as if they were our political salvation.


The 300 essay reveals, again, Zizek's cleverness: authentic leftists are Spartans, disciplined, above mere hedonism. And that is Tradition, whether jacobin, bolshevik, or muslim fanatics who on occasion fly planes into American buildings.........Admittedly, Comrade Z. does have a point: that is, if one conveniently forgets like Stalinism and the history of the Ottoman turks..............


The problem of the beautiful soul is much deeper than I thought.

If anyone thinks you can make a better world without going through hell to repay the debts we have incurred throughout the years - and that won't require real discipline and sacrifice (not just for organizing) - you are living in fantasyland (or at least the US).

With the exception of Jodi, I haven't heard anyone I would want in my foxhole.



Thinking now of Zizek's occasional invocation of Lenin - Lenin quotes Kautksy in What Is To Be Done, about an alliance of workers with people from outside the working class as part of forming a revolutionary organization and movement. Staying in that framework for a moment, it seems to me that your call to discipline and rencunciation is directed the latter half of that alliance, not at the working class (this connects with your identifying yourself as someone whose economic position would be undermined by the pursuit of your politics). For the working class it is generally not the case at all that neoliberalism "champions individualistic freedoms and pursuits, wary of any possible break upon or barrier to completely personalized enjoyment and fulfillment." Neoliberalism champions this for specific sectors, not universally, not for "the majority [who] have less and less" under neoliberalism. For that majority, the working class, to demand personalized enjoyment and fulfilment is not something which reinforces neoliberalism.

I think one primary disconnect I'm having here is that I don't know what you mean by "the left." This may because I usually have an implicit "working class" as an adjective on "the left" whenever I use the term at all positively. Thinking of the people I include in that term, I can't think of any of them who aren't anti-neoliberalism and who it would make sense to describe as enjoying or benefiting from neoliberalism. This includes a pretty wide swath of people in labor movements who I don't consider meaningfully on the left and includes a good many people who are leftists who I don't agree with. Who are these leftists who like and benefit from neoliberalism?

I'm also not clear on what you mean by party discipline. I feel like I'm having the response you had to Agamben about sovereignty: there are and have been many parties and many ways to understand the party. What's the party form of organization mean for you? And do you mean party discipline as in democratic centralism or merely being responsible and accountable to the organization?



PE Bird--I knew our love ran true and deep.

Nate--in the US and other places, trade union consciousness has been a problem facing the 'workers' struggle.' So, today, much rides on how one conceives 'working class.'

I confess to being rather schizophrenic on this: I embrace the term class struggle (as referring to a fundamental antagonism and not as a descriptor of a sociological category) but have a hard time using the term working class to refer to more than the industrial workforce that has less of a role in the US now because of deindustrialization and changes in manufacturing, the rise of the service sector, and other changes Hardt and Negri associate with the informatization of labor. On the one hand, it seems that some office workers should be thought of as the working class. On the other hand, their conditions are so different from, say, agricultural and service sector workers that it gets complicated.

When I speak of the 'majority' I have in my head global slumdwellers--I was heavily influenced by the UN Report on Human Settlements (I ordered it after Mike Davis cited it in his initial article on slums and then his book)--and the underemployed and poor in the US. These categories of course don't fit together neatly. The conditions of the underemployed in the US are better than the underemployed in Sadr City and Lima, for example.

There are also risks in moving from a category like worker that has more connotations of action, productivity, and engagement to a category like 'working poor' or underemployed. Fortunately, work on unofficial economies, slums of hope, and the dependence of the official economy on its disavowed underside help alleviate some of these risks. Yet the absence of a shared vocabulary or accepted term (part of no part seems way too abstract) subjects me, at least, to questions that I feel I have answered and addressed countless times.

At any rate, I don't associate the term workers with the left overall because of the sociological connotations of the terms and its inadequacy as a descriptor in contemporary US politics. When I talk about the left, I have in mind people who are explicitly identifying themselves as leftists and who are generally concerned with the meaning and content of the term today and, more importantly, with the content and viability of a politics that would carry that name. It would not surprise me at all if labor organizers in a specific industry or district would have no interest in what I'm saying.

On the party--sure there are different kinds of parties, different ways of functioning under different regimes. I have in mind a fantastic and idealized version of the Leninist party. But, this fantasy is not too far afield, I think, from a very general sense of a political party as a form of organization designed to mobilize and channel interest, participation, and struggle toward influencing, controlling, or governing the state (at any of its levels).

On democratic centralism v. responsibility and accountability, I haven't thought much about that lately. I tend toward authoritarian extremes as a general reflect. Yet, I recognize that this has unfortunately limited political appeal and so that compromise on this can be necessary. After all, the JRP (Jodi's Revolutionary Party) only has 5 members. I think I need at least a million to get anything done.


hi Jodi,

Thanks for clarifying, that's helpful, I understand better now what you mean. I think I use some of these terms differently than you do (though probably no less 'schizophrenic'-ly as you put it) but I'm not invested in people needing to use words the same way. I'm not as enthusiastic as you are about the party form or the Leninist tradition (to put it mildly), but I will say that those disagreements aside I think there are problems relating to organization which are common to Leninist and non-Leninist models, party and non-party forms alike - which is to say, I think discussion about this can be useful despite thoroughgoing disagreements.

Five members in the JRP, eh? Not bad. I think you already outnumber some trot groups. How many of those are cadre? And how many are in the JRP periphery? Do I count as a fellow traveler? (I'll donate if any of the comrades go to prison, for instance.)

take care,


We need fellow travellers. I have a minister of agriculture, head of secret police, minister of communications, regular member, and myself. I'm wondering if some folks who read the blog could be counted on as periphery or fellow traveler. I really need hard core cadre in more places than Geneva, NY.


Hmmm... I bet you could convince Zizek to form an international (sorry, make that "an International"), which might make for a cadre member or two here and there in other places.

Robert Jackson

Would Zizek be described as a 'pop stalinist'


Robert Jackson: playfully, yes, but in part he associates his "Stalinism" with being a Lacanian--somewhere he dismisses the term "dogmatic Lacanian" with the remark that to be a Lacanian is to be dogmatic. Zizek of course seriously describes the horrors of Stalinism. And, he doesn't dismiss these horrors simply as perversions of Lenin. Rather, they were part of the revolution. This line of argument, as I see it, is against wishy-washy leftists who think they can have a revolution, or revolutionary transformation, without violence. For Zizek, this is a total failure of responsibility. The problem of Stalinism is the way that the cause or the revolution ultimately became a location of enjoyment, justifying all sorts of excesses in the name in the name of the big Other of the revolution. I have a chapter on Stalinism and Fascism in my book Zizek's Politics.

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